GHIT extra: racing lines

I was recently interviewed on the Garage Heroes in Training podcast and they asked me a lot of really interesting questions. I want to follow that up in a series of posts on YSAR where I get into a little more depth on a few topics.

The Racing Line vs. the line you drive while racing

Several of the questions were either directly or indirectly related to the racing line. When most of us think of the line we imagine the path we take through a corner that optimizes our lap time, and in the typical 90° corner this would be the standard outside-inside-outside late apex line that we all know and love. However, in an amateur endurance race, this is almost never the line you want to take. When there are 100 cars on track, there are much more important things to think about than optimizing your lap time.

Grip, line, awareness: pick two

When I’m racing, awareness is always at the top of the list. The only time I’ll let that go is if I look behind me and I can’t see any cars at all. But as soon as I’m in any kind of traffic, my mind set is “how do I position myself in case the drivers around me do something unexpected?” If I’m optimizing awareness, it means I generally can’t drive the typical racing line as I’m positioning the car to avoid potential disaster. But wherever that line happens to be, I’m driving near the limit of grip. Ultimately, when racing, I almost always throw away the line and optimize the other two.

Does the angle at the apex matter?

Another question I was asked was if I thought the angle at the apex was important or was it just good enough to be at the apex. The angle is critical. In the picture below, both cars have reached the apex. Car #1 is going to have to do a lot of steering in order to finish the corner. Car #2 may have to make some steering corrections to prevent itself from spinning. In other words, Car #1 is understeering and Car #2 is oversteering. The angle you arrive at the apex determines how much throttle and steering you can use in the 2nd half of the corner.

If Car #2 doesn’t spin, it will win the race down the following straight. Car #2 is ready to go to full throttle very soon. Car #1 will have to wait a bit. If Car #1 gets impatient and adds throttle too soon, it runs the risk of understeering off the exit.

Most novice and intermediate drivers position themselves like Car #1. Why? Because in order to position yourself like Car #2, you must have oversteer in the first half of the corner. Not throttle-on oversteer, but throttle-off oversteer. Most novice and intermediate drivers spin under such conditions. Because spinning will earn you a black flag and the humiliation/penalties that go along with it, intermediate drivers may find themselves perfecting a driving style that prevents the rear from stepping out. You can be a pretty fast and safe intermediate driver but unless you learn to drive with oversteer, you won’t be as fast or safe as the advanced drivers.

It’s easy to see why driving with oversteer can make you faster, but why safer? Because shit happens on a race track. Shit you can’t foresee, like being forced off track, having a tire blow out, getting hit, or driving through oil. When shit happens, your car control skills save you, not your work-arounds. If you’ve learned how to drive a sliding car, your muscle memory and experience will help you navigate a perilous situation. However, if you’ve learned how to avoid sliding at all costs…

Incident Report

Just got back from a race weekend at Thunderhill with Lucky Dog Racing League. This happened to one of our drivers.

The new splitter didn’t survive. It got bent pretty bad and we had to remove it because it was cutting a tire. Here’s what it looked like before the incident.

I’ve got to collect my thoughts for a bit before I write the race report. It was an unusual race for many reasons.

Criminal injustice

Video #1

When you’re on a race track, you don’t always know who else is sharing the space. They might be total ass-idiots. In this first clip, our POV driver isn’t doing anything wrong. He’s just driving the typical racing line, when out of nowhere, wham.

This driver was able to keep moving, but a hit like that could require a tow and lengthy repairs. Let’s be clear, the POV driver isn’t at fault. The other driver was a total fucktard. But when sharing space with fucktards, you have to take some precautions. That starts with NOT DRIVING THE RACING LINE when there are fucktards behind you. When the POV driver set up on the outside right of the track, he allowed the fucktard to think “I can make a pass on the inside”. The way to stay safe is to communicate to the fucktards that they can’t have the inside line. How? By driving on the inside line.

Video #2

Different drivers, different track, same fucking story.

Video #3

In this video, there’s a nice rear view inlay. You can see a faster car approaching from the rear. The POV driver sets up on the outside and takes the typical racing line. Can you guess what happens next?

From a rules perspective, the POV driver is ahead when he turns in. So he gets to choose the racing line. I think most people would say the fault lies with the rear car because he punts the POV car. However, the POV car also has some responsibility to give racing room to other drivers. When he turned in hard, was he not aware of the other car? That would certainly put some fault with him. Alternatively, he may have been sending a message to the other driver that he has right of way, and you had better back off. That’s being aggressive not unaware. Which is worse? I’m not sure. Can you tell an aggressive driver to back off? Can you tell an unaware driver to pay more attention? In both cases, the drivers are so focused on what they’re doing inside the car that they aren’t imagining what other drivers might do. Neither “I didn’t see” nor “I didn’t expect” are acceptable on the race track. To keep yourself safe, you have to dial it back a little so you can spare some attention for the ass-idiots around you.

Video #4

Different idiots, different venue, same goddam story. Watch the wing mirror on the right.


It’s really not about who is right and who is wrong. It’s about which cars are lapping and which ones are in the pits. In every case here, the POV driver could have done something to prevent the accident. Yes, they were victims of ass-idiot fucktards who violated the rules. Criminals exist. Don’t let yourself become a victim.

The 10 cent diamond

Overtaking another car is a great feeling. Passing 5 cars in one lap makes you feel like a driving ace. Passing 5 in one corner is a sign that something is out of the ordinary. Is there a yellow flag you haven’t seen? Is there something dangerous afoot? Is your car/driving just that much better than everyone else? If someone sells you a diamond for 10 cents, it’s probably not worth a dime. And if you just passed 5 cars, it’s might not be on your merits.

Watch below as the unfortunate driver learns a hard lesson about stomping on the throttle on a cold, damp track. Around here, we call such power-oversteer crashes Karma Supra. Video #2 is the rear view.

This YouTuber’s channel features some more entertaining moments (below). From watching their normal race videos, the team appears to have decent drivers and a well-sorted car (which sounds amazing). Sadly, shit happens all the time. Well, if it looks like shit and smells like shit, really, you don’t have to taste it before deciding whether or not to step in it. So be on the lookout for 10 cent diamonds and dog shit. They’re everywhere.

YRAR: mechanical awareness

In case you missed it last week, You SUCK at Racing is taking brief journey into You ROCK at Racing.

Novice racers or even HPDE track drivers can have so much of their attention on controlling their car that they don’t notice anything else around them. Tunnel vision can be pretty dangerous in a sport like auto racing where danger is literally all around you. Having the awareness to notice that there are mechanical problems in your car or someone else’s car is a higher level of driving than simply lapping quickly. I think almost anyone can learn to drive a car within a couple seconds of the class lap record. But doing that in a race setting while managing the traffic around you, monitoring gauges, communicating with the pit, and making mental notes about setup changes is another thing entirely.

In my “First-timers” page (see link at the top), I give some advice for people doing their first race. I just added a new item (#6) inspired by the following video. It’s really important to have enough spare mental capacity to notice that the car you’re following is about to blow up and spread oil all over the track.

Well done!

Bad driving tip #3: don’t check your mirrors

When two cars make contact, one of the drivers usually ends up saying “I had the line”. Well yes, there are rules that give one car priority over the other. As a very general rule, the first car that turns into the corner has right of way. Does that mean they can chop down on the trailing car? Yes and no. Yes, if you want to assert yourself as an aggressive driver, shutting the door on a competitor can be a smart move. The ensuing contact may be ruled in your favor, and that driver will probably avoid going door-to-door with you again. You win. However, there is an overarching rule that all cars deserve racing room, and if the officials say that you impinged too much on their space, the ruling may go against you. You lose. If you’re into amateur endurance racing, which is really the focus of this blog, then you lose even if you win because the other teams that didn’t get into these shenanigans all benefit whenever you pick up penalties.

One of the charms of amateur racing is the wide range of driver abilities. What looks like a driver aggressively shutting the door on another is often just lack of awareness. They had no idea the other car was there. The situation goes hand-in-hand with the bad driving tip #5, “always driving the school line”. Rank amateurs may believe that they are supposed to drive the line and let others work around them. But you can’t go outside-inside-outside if there’s a car on your door. You have to give the other drivers their racing room. Just like on the street, you have to check your mirrors before changing lanes.

In the first video below, a faster car blows by a slower car on the straight. They think they are in the clear, but they park it in the braking zone and then proceed to hit the slower car on the way to the apex.

In this next video, the slower lead car crosses the track in HPDE style and squishes the faster trailing car into a concrete barrier.

Here’s one more.

In just about every incident, there’s enough blame to be shared. In all three videos the car in front could easily have avoided the incident by checking their mirrors. The trailing drivers were the victims here, but had they realized how unaware the other drivers were, maybe they would have driven differently.

Bad driving tip #4: drive (too) nice

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The road to repair bills also. Your #1 job as a racecar driver is driving. While it’s a nice courtesy to signal other drivers that there is a danger ahead, such behavior requires you to remove one hand from the steering wheel and divert your attention from driving to signaling. In that moment your concentration shifts, bad stuff could happen.

In this first video, the driver sees the yellow flag and attempts to control the situation by alerting the drivers behind him. A fine gesture, and to be applauded. Unfortunately, he mishandles the steering wheel, which causes the car to drift to the left. The Volvo on his right gets spooked by other traffic (I think) and turns into him and what little space there was is now used up. This results in a multi-car crash. Alerting other drivers to the yellow flag ahead was a great idea, especially as the upcoming corner is blind and the flag station is hard to see. But keeping control of your own vehicle is job #1.

In this second video, the driver once again attempts to alert the cars around him of the upcoming yellow flag. But he’s so focused on waving that he runs into a stack of cars.

In this third video, the HPDE driver in the blue Z takes a very wide line while pointing-by 2 cars to the inside. Unfortunately, the driver is so focused on others that he doesn’t keep his car on track. The panic that ensues collects an innocent bystander.

In all 3 videos, the drivers are exhibiting a rare and treasured personality trait: kindness. But driving racecars on track is stupidly dangerous and requires a lot of attention. If you’re an expert, you can probably spare to split your attention between driving and other tasks. But if you’re not, focus on the driving as the #1 priority.


Giving thanks

As this is Thanksgiving weekend, I thought I would give thanks for a few things in the racing world.

  • I am thankful that I have been in car races on world famous tracks like Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Thunderhill, Willow Springs, etc. What percentage of the world population gets to do this? I don’t normally think of myself as part of the dreaded 1% (because I’m not in a financial sense), but in terms of car racing, I’m pretty sure I am.
  • I am thankful that I haven’t been in any crashes. I admit that a good part of that is dumb luck. I’m gaining skill in recognizing when bad stuff happens, but even very skilled drivers get wrecked by things beyond their control.
  • I am thankful to the racing organizations that make this hobby possible, especially those aimed at the budget racer (24 Hours of LeMons, Lucky Dog Racing League, World Racing League, ChumpCar, etc.).
  • I am thankful for all the people I call teammates. Thanks for joining me or letting me join you in this crazy pastime. I’ll remember these days always.
  • I am thankful for all the people I’ve raced against. Sharing the track with you has been an honor and a privilege.
  • I am thankful that I haven’t raced next to this guy…


Post 99: you done fucked up

Amazingly (to me) this is YSAR post #99. Starting with #100, I will be making room for some new content aside from the usual crash analysis. At this landmark, I thought it would be useful to provide some kind of synthesis. Simply put, what advice would I give someone about to go wheel-to-wheel racing for the first time. I’m calling these rules the YSAR YDFU.

  1. I didn’t see = dangerous driver
  2. I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver
  3. Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact
  4. Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury
  5. Drive with people, not against them

Rule #1: I didn’t see = dangerous driver

You might think that driving the limit is your #1 job… It isn’t. Your highest priority on track is being safe, and that starts with seeing everything around you. First off, flags and flag stations. It’s not enough to know where they are and what the colors mean. You have to actively look for them. Judge Steve of Lemons has a phrase worth quoting: “corner, unwind, look for the next flag station”. If you miss a flag station, you may end up ruining the weekend for yourself and someone else.

If you ever find yourself in car-to-car contact and explain yourself by saying “I didn’t see” then you really have no business being on a race track. That’s your #1 job. It doesn’t matter if you have right of way. You should never be surprised by the presence of another car. If this happens, you need to work on your situational awareness in a safer environment (HPDE, simulation).

Rule #2: I didn’t expect = irresponsible driver

In some ways “I didn’t expect” is an even worse response than “I didn’t see” because it shows a lack of judgement. It’s like saying “I could have avoided the incident but I chose not to”. You have to expect other people to suck at racing and drive accordingly. You also have to know your own abilities and not drive beyond them. Everyone has lapses of judgement. Try not to let the excitement of the moment ruin the weekend.

Rule #3: Late braking is the #1 cause of car-to-car contact

The most common cause of car-to-car contact occurs when a driver tries to improve time or position by aggressively braking. With all of the grip going to slowing, there’s none left for turning. If this concept is unfamiliar to you, go buy any racing book and look at the friction circle. Locking your wheels pretty much guarantees you’ll be ending someone’s weekend. Let’s see a couple examples.

A less common type of late braking occurs when a driver hits their brakes mid-corner. This results in sudden oversteer. The situation is exacerbated in front-wheel drive cars and in downhill corners where the weight is already biased towards the front of the car.

Almost everyone knows the adage “in slow, out fast” but knowing doesn’t equate with doing. The key to going faster isn’t braking later, but getting on throttle sooner. That means moving the braking and turning earlier in the cornering process, not later. The only people who benefit from braking later are rank novices dealing with the initial fears of high G-forces. If you’re a rank novice, you don’t have any business racing yet. And if you’re not, late braking isn’t going to get you anything but trouble.

Rule #4: Off-track excursions are the #1 cause of self-inflicted injury

As soon as a car puts even part of a tire off track, it loses grip. In these situations, holding the steering wheel in the same place pretty much guarantees you will spin. It’s critical that all drivers understand how to leave the racing surface and how to return. In both cases, the wheels have to be running nearly parallel to the track. If you’re about to run off track, zero your steering and go off track intentionally and under control. Otherwise you may find yourself spinning uncontrollably.

Other people who go off track are some of the greatest dangers you will face. They often collect other cars in their attempt to regain control.

If you see another car kick up dirt, expect something bad to happen. Hopefully, trouble doesn’t come looking for you.

And when you’re ready to come back on track, make eye contact with a flag station to make sure it’s okay. When it’s safe to proceed, do so gently. Tires don’t turn so well on dirt/grass, and a common mistake is to steer too much. Racecars don’t like going off track, and often break something when they do. It’s easy to tell if your suspension is crooked, but torn brake lines or radiator hoses are not so obvious. Try to evaluate if something is wrong before going full speed.

Rule #5: Drive with people, not against them

Hey, this is amateur racing we’re talking about. If you have professional aspirations, what are you doing slumming on this blog? There are no cash prizes or racing contracts in your future. Take a fucking chill pill. Don’t endanger other drivers, protect them. Damage to cars and drivers is unacceptable. If you see someone spin in front of you, don’t try to rush past. Make sure that you and those behind you aren’t going to make a bad situation worse. Slow down, control your car, and position yourself to maximize safety. It’s a lot better having someone come over to your pit and say “thanks, you totally saved me” rather than “fuck you asshole”.

If you’re a fast driver in a fast car, your closing speeds with less capable cars can be really high. Less experienced drivers might not see you. Don’t assume they will. Make yourself as visible as possible and get around them with minimal fuss. Yes, it can be frustrating to follow a slow and oblivious novice for a couple corners. Please, don’t be a jerk who tries to teach them a lesson unless that lesson is how to drive with courtesy.

How To: get hit

Every racing book talks about the racing line. When you start going to driving events, the coaches and other drivers will talk incessantly about the line. Set up on the outside of the track, brake, downshift, turn in, apex, unwind, track out. You’ve gotta drive the line if you want to be fast. Right? You’ll also hear that driving the line is the safest way around the track because other drivers will expect you to be on it. That may be true on a track day, but it’s not true in a race. If you want to get hit in a road race, one of the best ways is to drive the racing line. Why? Because when you set up on the outside of the track, you just sent an invite to a couple of ass idiots behind you to have a drag race to the inside of the corner.